Obama Proposes NSA Changes, Signs Budget

President Obama over the weekend signed the 1,600-page spending bill to keep the government operating. The signing ceremony came after his speech on Friday, in which he outlined changes for the way the National Security Agency collects intelligence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Over the weekend, President Obama signed the 1,600-page spending bill to keep the government operating. The bill passed Congress with huge bipartisan margins in both the House and the Senate. The president's signing ceremony came after his speech on Friday, in which he outlined new proposals for the way the National Security Agency collects intelligence. That speech also prompted some bipartisan reaction. But in this case that bipartisan shift meant that each party had members who were both pro and con.

Joining us as to look at what's behind these relatively calm political winds and what could stir them up shortly is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with those NSA proposals. Remind us of the highlights of what the president said and what the reaction was.

ROBERTS: Well, the president said that the data collection - the phone records that the NSA is collecting - should continue, that it should be somewhat more limited. We learn these terms, you know, all the time - new terms as we get into these stories - the so-called Third Hop. They can look at one set of records and then who those people called, but not then who those people called - so somewhat more limited. And that also that the records should be kept by some outside entity outside of the government. An unnamed entity, maybe the phone companies, maybe something else. And that in that special courts where these cases are heard, that there should be a public advocate, somebody other than the government represented there.

The response, as you said, was both positive and negative from both Democrats and Republicans, some people saying that it was going too far in reigning in the National Security Agency, others saying it wasn't going far enough in protecting privacy.

There was also bipartisan condemnation of Edward Snowden, that young contractor who revealed all of these things. The chairs of the intelligence committee in both - committees in both the House and Senate - Republican Mike Rogers in the House, Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate - both raised questions yesterday about whether he had been getting some help from the Russians all along.

But you know, what was interesting was that the parties - people didn't retreat automatically into partisan corners on this, as they have been doing on almost every single issue for the last several years.

MONTAGNE: Well, so does this in fact seem like this is a more bipartisan moment that, I guess, we've seen in the last four years? I mean is that possible, and how long does it last? Is this possible?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Well, it's interesting - the chairman of the appropriations committees in the House and the Senate are both saying that after they crafted together this big spending bill. But the - and that is Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Senator - Congressman Hal Rogers, a different Rogers from the intelligence committee. But interesting that both of the chair - Senate chairs that I've talked about here are women, Renee. And it is true that the women in both the House and Senate have been part of a bipartisan push, saying let's just get things done.

MONTAGNE: And one of the things, of course, needs getting done, really - what is likely to happen about the debt limit?

ROBERTS: Well, that's right and that is the big partisan cloud overall of this happiness. Republicans are going into a retreat shortly to decide what they want to do about that. They have always said that they're not going to raise that debt limit without some - getting something in return. But they know now that they can't shut down the government - that didn't work for them, that they've really played out the string on Obamacare.

And so they don't really quite know what they want to say to the president that they have to have in return for agreeing to let the country continue to pay its bills. The president, of course, says he's not going to negotiate on the debt limit. So that's where we're likely to see partisanship rear its head again.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts.

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